The city of Boston faces a painful anniversary on Friday, as April 15 will make it three years since the Boston Marathon bombing, which plunged the city into a chaotic manhunt. Nowadays, everyone knows who committed the awful crime: Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, two brothers who rigged pressure cooker bombs and set them off near the race's finish line. Tamerlan died during the manhunt, but Dzhokhar survived, and ended up being convicted and imprisoned. And that's exactly where Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is right now.
Specifically, he's currently imprisoned at the ADX Florence federal supermax facility in Colorado, one of the tightest security prisons in the entire United States. And even more specifically, he's on death row. The Boston Marathon bombings killed three people ― 29-year-old Krystie Campbell, 23-year-old-old Lu Lingzi, and 8-year-old Martin Richard ― and injured hundreds more, with more than a dozen people requiring amputations. Tsarnaev was sentenced to death by a Boston-area jury on May 15, 2015.
But a death sentence in America is far from a quick or easy process. The appeals process that's common for death row inmates is exhaustive and can take years ― something that's a huge moral necessity, given the possibility of executing a wrongfully convicted person. As such, three years out from the grisly marathon attack and nearly a year after being sentenced, Tsarnaev still sits in ADX Florence.
If you're wondering exactly how long he'll continue to be living there, that's a hard thing to pin down precisely. The average length of a death row stint prior to execution is about 16 years, but individual cases can stretch on much longer or can end much sooner. For a similarly high-profile comparison, Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was executed a mere four years following his sentencing, but that's unusually quick. At present, Tsarnaev is 22 years old; he was 19 at the time of the bombing.
In other words, it could be a few years when Tsarnaev exhausts his options for appeal and is scheduled to be put to death, or it could be more than a decade more. As it stands now, as The Economist detailed in 2014, far more people leave death row by dying of old age than they do by actual execution. Even more shockingly, 70 death row inmates were exonerated in 2011, while only 43 were put to death.
This might seem like an awfully long time for the process to take, especially when it's typically viewed as some sort of salve for the killer's victims (though Martin Richard's family forcefully spoke out against sentencing Tsarnaev to death). But the sheer horror of the chance of executing an innocent person serves as all the reminder that's needed to realize why prudence and deliberation is so important in these cases. Disturbingly, a 2014 study suggested that 4 percent of death row convicts are innocent.
Obviously, in the case of Tsarnaev, you might be tempted to say "but he's so clearly guilty! There's no misunderstanding here." Be that as it may, the system has to treat death sentences as fairly and equitably as it can ― or, at least, it should ― and as such, Tsarnaev will be entitled to every legal recourse he and his defense team can manage.